The University of Waterloo should take mental health and wellness factors into account in everything from exam schedules to new programs, a new report says.

The report comes from the university’s task force on student mental health, which was formed last year following two on-campus suicide deaths.

It was finalized and made public on Monday, and contains 36 recommendations aimed at improving the mental health of students.

Those recommendations encompass a wide swath of university life, including encouraging instructors to integrate mental health topics into their curricula and incorporating wellness into the design and planning of renovations to the campus and new buildings.

Also suggested is that the school looks at creating a research institute focused on student mental health and wellness in an attempt to find solutions to questions “that are, so far, difficult to answer.”

The university says it has already agreed to invest $1.2 million to increase the staffing level of its counselling services department to 37 mental health professionals.

This will bring the ratio of counselling staff to students to one per 1,000, which was recommended in the report. Currently, there are about 1,370 Waterloo students for every mental health counsellor.

The $1.2 million will also go toward providing more mental health training for faculty and other staff members.

Student mental health has become an increasingly discussed topic on campuses across Canada in the last few years, although there are some signs suggesting talk of mental health issues is particularly prevalent at Waterloo.

A Maclean’s survey found that Waterloo received some of the lowest marks in the country for mental health supports from its students, with about 75 per cent of respondents ranking the school’s supports as either fair or poor. (The report notes that this may have been based on perceptions of the system rather than the system itself, as the most recent internal data from the school’s counselling department reveals a 94 per cent satisfaction rate.)

A 2016 survey have found that 44 per cent of post-secondary students “felt so depressed it was difficult to function,” 64 per cent reported feeling overwhelming anxiety, and 13 per cent had considered suicide in the past year.

All of those numbers represented increases over the previous survey, which was conducted in 2013. Those findings are consistent with what has been seen at Waterloo specifically, where counselling and other mental health services have seen their utilization rates rise every year for the past five years.

During the last school year, approximately 4,000 students received 19,500 hours of service from the 27 people in Waterloo’s counselling services department. Another 14,000 or so appointments were made through the school’s health services department for mental health issues.

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • Reviewing programs where students are given co-op placements in their second term of university, which can be considered a high-stress undertaking
  • Creating a working group to look at stress-related issues around final exams, how heavily course marks are weighted toward final exams, and when final exam schedules are developed
  • Publicizing the process the university uses to communicate information about on-campus student deaths
  • Making mental health training part of the orientation process for new faculty members